12 November 2012 Last updated at 12:03 GMT
Hurricane Sandy: Cuba struggles to help those hit
By Sarah Rainsford BBC News, Santiago province, Cuba
Siboney was a pretty town on the Caribbean coast of Cuba before
Hurricane Sandy tore through.
Now, it is a disaster area.
In some spots there are piles of rubble in place of houses. Many of
those buildings still standing have gaping holes in their walls; most
are missing all, or part of, their roofs.
Residents are still struggling to come to terms with the destruction
more than two weeks after the passage of the storm which killed 11
people in eastern Cuba and razed 15,000 homes.
"We have had cyclones before, but nothing like this devastation," says
Trinidad, a pensioner whose house was drenched and possessions washed
away when waves up to 9m (30ft) high smashed through Siboney.
The sick and infirm had been evacuated from the town, but everyone else
was at home.
They talk about having watched a state TV forecast defining Sandy as a
tropical storm; then the power went out.
The next morning they were hit by a Category Two hurricane.
Trinidad tells me: "I stayed to try to protect my things, because I am
poor. But I couldn't. I had no time to save anything."
"I want to leave here now," she confesses, starting to cry. "I'm afraid."
The damage further up the coast is even worse. One house has
concertinaed to the ground, as if hit by an earthquake.
Joaquin Variento Barosso leans on the squashed ruins of his home and
remembers the storm's arrival.
"The sea was furious. It carried off everything: bed, fridge, mattress."
"We had to run, but we watched the destruction from higher ground."
Many people have moved in with relatives. Others are now sheltering in
state workers' holiday homes where basic food is being provided.
But by Friday, 16 days after the storm, Siboney still had no electricity.
Teams of electricians were deployed to Santiago province from all over
the island within hours of the hurricane hitting.
They have been working late every night to repair thousands of lamp
posts and reconnect power lines.
The lights came back on in Cuba's second city, Santiago, late last week.
But restoring power to everyone is a huge task.
"We've got no money, not even a spoon to eat with. There's nothing
left," Joaquin Barosso shrugs, contemplating the destruction of his
house, and his hometown.
"I don't know what we'll do now."
The situation is particularly tough for a poor country like Cuba, which
is still struggling to re-house those caught up in the last major storms
four years ago.
This time, the government has announced a 50% price cut for construction
materials and interest-free loans to repair the damage.
That aid will be means-tested, in line with the new Cuban thinking.
Further subsidies are promised for the poorest or hardest hit.
There are already supplies of usually scarce building materials in a
street in Siboney, including corrugated iron sheets, metal rods and cement.
Nearby, local officials are compiling data from families about the
damage they have suffered.
They have recorded 178 total house collapses in this small area alone.
Housing officer Susen Correa is helping the effort and she assures me:
"People were pretty depressed at first, but the mood has lifted since
we've been offering support."
"They are traumatised, but we are trying to address as many of their
problems as we can."
Across the province, other military and civilian teams were mobilised
quickly to clear the streets of rubble and an estimated 6.5m cubic
metres (230m cubic feet) of felled trees.
This once lush, green region now looks bare.
And it is not just the small or coastal towns like Siboney that have
Santiago city itself is a jumble of missing roofs, flattened street
signs and smashed windows.
Bizarrely, the giant replica bottle above the original Bacardi rum
complex has survived.
By Friday, 18 planeloads of humanitarian aid had arrived in the region
from countries including Venezuela, Russia and Japan as well as the
International Red Cross and UN.
The resident UN co-ordinator, Barbara Pesce Monteiro, is visiting the
"This [situation] is extraordinary. Santiago de Cuba had not seen
anything like this at least in 60 years. It goes far beyond what they're
used to," she explains.
"It has affected a large population and all the livelihoods that go
around it. It is obviously on a major scale and needs to be given
None of those many tonnes of foreign aid – food, clothes, and
construction materials – have made it to Siboney yet, or its newly homeless.
But Maria Louisa Bueno of the Ministry for Foreign Trade and Investment
denies that the government is being excessively slow to deliver aid.
"Institutions like hospitals, homes for the elderly and schools are
She points out that storage warehouses need re-roofing after the storm
to protect the aid.
"The hurricane victims will be looked after by the government, you can
be clear on that," she insists.
On Friday, the Red Cross made the first delivery direct to the
population, taking cookery and hygiene packs to the picturesque, but now
battered Cayo Granma, a few minutes ferry-ride from the mainland.
The aid had arrived in Cuba the day before. Its delivery, via a long
human chain of volunteers, was applauded by residents still picking up
the pieces in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
But this is short-term emergency relief. A massive recovery task lies ahead.
"We have got nothing left but the clothes we were wearing," Roberto
Salazar tells me, amidst the flattened ruins of his home.
The enormous rock responsible now stands in what used to be a bedroom.
It was thrown through the house by a raging sea.
"I need to find some way of rebuilding it all," Roberto says, quietly.
"But it won't be easy."